By Hartland Elcock

When SSHRC and IDRC awarded sizeable, prestigious grants to support Open AIR in its third phase of research, the Network’s leadership promptly organized a face-to-face meeting at its North African Hub, the American University of Cairo. While a great strength of Open AIR is its ability to coordinate its research and administrative tasks remotely across its various hubs, personal meetings are invaluable when the Network needs to deal with specific overarching strategic issues.

The two-day meeting enabled the Network’s principal-investigators, theme and hub leaders, and project managers to interact and plan.  There were debriefings, recommendations, and requirements to be communicated, as well as celebrating our achievements and the acknowledgement of the ground-breaking and important nature of our work.

A Student’s Perspective

To immediately involve students, even at this early stage of the third phase, Professors de Beer and Oguamanam invited me to attend this meeting. Having worked for Professor de Beer on Open AIR projects over my first two years of law school, the opportunity to participate in this Steering Committee meeting was an unrivalled experience, which helped me to further develop practical personal and professional skills critical to my future career.

In addition to meeting all the hub leaders, theme leaders, investigators, and project managers, I also met and worked with other members of the New and Emerging Researchers Group (NERG). These interactions allowed me to engage in a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary interchange of ideas and information, exposing me to the pressing intellectual property (IP) and innovation issues prevalent in different African states. These experiences have deepened and contextualized my understanding of a field of study in which I am interested, IP law. As a result, my trip has shaped and supplemented my third year studies at the University of Ottawa, influencing and informing my research papers and choice of courses. Furthermore, working directly with representatives from each of the Network’s hubs, observing cultural differences in communication, has left me better prepared to work and thrive in the globalized economy that faces new graduates.

Outside of these personal lessons, my time with Open AIR in Cairo helped me to further develop my professional skills; I learned how to prepare for, participate in, and debrief a meeting involving delegates from various geographic regions. I learned how an international organization can deal effectively and efficiently with strategic challenges such as how to form working plans, how to adhere to reporting requirements from various funding agencies, how to allocate resources effectively throughout a broad, multifaceted organization, and how to balance the various needs of a diverse epistemic community. I was given the opportunity to practice preparing various written outputs for a multidisciplinary group of experienced professionals.  I believe that these lessons have improved my ability to function as a member of Open AIR’s NERG. Very importantly, they have also prepared me for my future career.

Finally, I cannot overstate the value of travelling to Cairo. Often in university, students study subject matter from a distance. While such an education is necessary, directly experiencing a new culture and simultaneously placing the lessons one has learned in context are critical accompaniments to in-class learning. My education has been improved through this experience and I see the offering of such opportunities as one Open AIR’s greatest and unique strengths.

My experience was the tip of the iceberg of what Open AIR offers members of its student community. The chance to build skills, take part in fascinating and important research, and engage in an international community are just some of the positive experiences that students will receive from the Network in its third phase. It is very exciting to be a participant in this process and watch it unfold.